British Columbia

Here's why everyone you know is baking bread in quarantine

You've seen the tweets and the loaves. So why has a global pandemic turned everyone into an amateur baker?

In grocery stores across the country, baking aisles have been emptied as Canadians embrace their daily bread

With everyone trapped at home with time to kill, and every trek to the grocery store requiring a risk assessment, it would seem to follow that people have taken it upon themselves to bake like they're the sole boulangerie in a small French town. But the answer may be more complicated than that. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

More than two weeks into quarantine and the days have become indistinguishable, edges blurring into each other. You wake up in the morning and reach for the only thing that provides you any connection to the outside world — your phone.

Bleary eyed, you instinctively begin to scroll. And amid the frenzied news clips, isolation memes, and increasingly incoherent posts from your friends, you notice something else.

Banana bread lovingly piled and posed like a still life. Whole wheat loaves wrapped in tea towels, propped proudly in front of an unremarkable kitchen. Muffins. Scones. And the sourdough. So. Much. Sourdough.

Why, exactly, is everyone you know baking so much bread?

The answer may partially be in the question — with everyone trapped at home with time to kill, and every trek to the grocery store requiring a risk assessment, it would seem to follow that people have taken it upon themselves to bake like they're the sole boulangerie servicing a small French town.

But Karen Bates, who is working on a master's degree at Royal Roads University in environmental education, and studies the relationship between traditional skills and resilience, says we might be witnessing "a real time immersion in how we feel about food during economic transitions."

"There seems to be a shared cultural value around cooking, baking that is coming out now — it's normally sort of buried in our busy economic industrial society," she said.

"And then there's that survival aspect —we realize we're not masters of this earth, there's this little virus that can take us all down, and how do we reconnect with being part of natural living systems? Cooking [is] one of those things that connects us to natural living systems. Food is one of those things that connects us to the earth."

Bates said she noticed the trend when she, one day into her own quarantine, baked a loaf of sourdough and went to post it on Twitter — only to discover dozens of people had already done the same.

She theorized that people who don't often cook — perhaps used to eating out or ordering in — are suddenly scrambling to feed themselves as their favourite restaurants shutter and delivery options become less available.

"It makes you think, when you have to step outside the economic frame that we're in, how long is that economic frame going to go on? How resilient are you when that economic frame isn't in place — what do you need to know?" she said.

The evidence isn't just on Twitter and Instagram — Canadian operations like Daybreak flour mill in Saskatchewan say online orders have spiked so much they've altered their production levels for whole grains and flour.

And in grocery stores across the country, the baking aisle, much like toilet paper, have been among the first to empty as shoppers stock up.

Bates said she's also noticed people posting about reconnecting with old recipes — pulling dusty cookbooks off of shelves and trying to replicate, sometimes for the first time, dishes and desserts family members made for them decades ago.

And unlike a virus, which requires a host to survive, she notes that yeast is very much a living thing. 

"It's that comfort of connecting to heritage or connecting to a living thing, a microorganism like yeast," she said.

"I think it's a very hopeful thing that people are doing ... It will be interesting to see if it will linger and people will cook more because people will realize that it's fulfilling something."

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC News in Vancouver. She has previously reported in Lebanon and Chile. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

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